Behind The Secret Window: A Memoir of A Hidden Childhood During World War Two

Behind The Secret Window: A Memoir of A Hidden Childhood During World War Two

by Nelly S. Toll


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Illustrated with Nelly's original watercolors, this powerful memoir tells the true story of how a little girl's imagination helped her survive World War II.

The Nazis come to Poland when Nelly is six. By the time she turns eight, the events of World War II have taken almost everyone she loves. Scared, lonely, and running from the Nazis, Nelly hides in the bedroom of a Gentile couple in Lwow, Poland. For over a year, she lives in fear of discovery, writing in her diary and painting pictures of a fantasy world filled with open skies and happy families. 

For 13 months during World War II, the author and her mother were hidden from the Nazis. Like Anne Frank, Nelly kept a diary and through that outlet transformed her grim reality into an enchanting fantasy world.

"Without emphasizing horror and loss, Toll conveys the effects of human evil and human folly, summoning up the forces of tragedy and courage." --Publishers Weekly 

"In Toll's remembrance, art equals hope: her happy family pictures, painted in the secret room where she and her mother hid from the Nazis and the Poles, show extraordinary preteen talent as well as the will to survive." --Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142302415
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/24/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 779,206
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.46(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Dr. Nelly S. Toll came to America in 1951. She holds a master's degree in art and art history and education from Rutgers University, has studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She has exhibited her adult work widely and has taught both art and art history. Dr. Toll also holds a master's degree in counseling from Glassboro College and a degree in art therapy from Hahnemann University; she has combined both fields as a counselor working with young people. 
    Her sixty-four watercolor paintings from the thirteen months she spent in hiding in Poland during World War II have been shown around the world. Eight ar in the permanent collection of the Yad Vashem Museum in Israel.
    She is also the co-author of a play based on her wartime experiences and the author of Without Surrender: Art of the Holocaust. 

Customer Reviews

Behind the Secret Window : A Memoir of a Hidden Childhood During World War Two 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
jkepler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just started this one and it drew me in. Its a memoir of a Jewish girl hidden from the German Nazis in Lwow, Poland (L'viv, Ukraine). The book has color reproductions of watercolor paintings the author made during her two years in hiding.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The world around her was deadly and stayed that way for far too many years. As with most survivors, she and her mother were saved by Poles who took a risk that could have cost their lives. It is also likely that the couple who saved them were paid to do so. But, a neighbor in the same complex gave a little girl paper and watercolors so she could create images of the world as she would wish it to be, rather than the world they actually occupied. 70 years out, one can ask, "What have we learned? When will we ever learn?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You’re enclosed in a small, dusty room. You’re hidden from all noises and people. You are trapped in this lifestyle: meant to be a forgotten human being. This is the life that Nelly lives in her autobiography: Behind the Secret Window. This book was written by Nelly S. Toll herself while she lived through the brutal World War II. Once a long time ago, it seems for Nelly, everything was fine for her family. Business was booming and life was happy. That is, until the Nazis came. When the terrifying, uniformed men flooded into the town, everyone took cover. Windows were closed, shades were drawn, doors were locked, and everything was still. Everyone was worried about the Germans. People stopped leading a normal life and instead were cast into fear. Nelly’s father decided to leave the family in a time that they most desperately needed him. The Toll family doesn’t know where he’s going but as he told them, he’d return one day after helping Lwow (their home state). Fighting. Fighting for her life and staying alive is all Nelly knows how to do. She’s transported from a six year old to the maturity of someone in their twenties. That’s the only way she knows how to act; moreover the only way she can afford to act in a time like this. The story is so very much like a roller costar. Just when you think things will begin to brighten up, events take an odd turn for the worst. Somehow though, Nelly and her mother find a way to survive. I enjoyed this book because you’re always guessing. In most stories you can infer what might happen next, but in the life that Nelly lived, it keeps you on your toes wondering. I feel that this particular book would touch closer to home with girls from the age of 11-16. Seeing as the story revolves around the life of Nelly, girls may have more of a sympathetic feeling toward to story. Honestly though, it’s so brilliantly written it would probably touch the heart of any gender or age.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a gift
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿`I¿ll be leaving soon,¿ he said, `but first I want to show you your secret window. It¿s all ready for you.¿ Papa lifted a colorful kilim rug that hung on the wall, and behind it I saw a small trap door. He opened the door to reveal a dark little cubicle.¿¿ Nelly grew to know this tiny space well, while she and her mother spent months there, hiding from the Germans during World War II. The room Nelly and her mother stayed in was attached to the apartment of a Christian couple that were willing to risk their lives in order to help them survive. They often encounter many suspenseful and frightening situations, teaching Nelly and her mother that nowhere is truly ¿safe¿. The book is incredibly emotional while you travel with Nelly through all of her struggles. Seeing such a historical event as the holocaust through the eyes of an eight-year-old victim was inspiring. I find it amazing how Nelly can so vividly remember everything from just a small dairy she kept through her journeys. I also really enjoyed seeing the watercolor paintings by Nelly included in the book. It was interesting to read about her painting them during certain tough situations, then to actually see them gave me a great visual. There are 29 paintings in all, each of them representing a different feeling and setting she experienced. You can almost see the same pain in the faces of the people she paints, as the pain she talks about in her writing. As well as getting a great personal feel form Behind the Secret Window, it gave me great historical information. I have not yet learned in school about World War II and the holocaust, however, this book gave just the right amount of background information to help me better understand the troubles and situations Nelly and her family were faced with as Jews. If you enjoy history like me, I would definitely pick up a copy of this book. It left me wanting to know more about the journeys and experiences of other families like Nelly¿s. The book was very well written, describing the many people and towns they came across, however, sometimes I felt as if to many unnecessary characters were introduced when they didn¿t need to be added to the story. When there got to be to many people to remember I would get confused and found it challenging to decipher whom she was talking about, and what they had to do with the story. Especially since many of her friends and relatives had similar names. Despite the excess information, I still found the book engaging and understandable. Reading Behind the Secret Window opened my eyes to the comfort and safety I take advantage of everyday. It made me realize that I am incredibly fortunate just to be able to walk on the street everyday without having to even think about policemen kidnapping or shooting me. Nelly S. Toll beautifully paints the events of her life as a young Jew during the Holocaust through this exquisite novel, and I would highly recommend it if you are willing to travel with Nelly on her emotional rollercoaster.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Author¿s Name: Nelly S. Toll Title: Behind the Secret Window Genre: Young adult biography Nelly is a young girl growing up in Lwow, Poland, in 1941. She lived comfortably in her small Jewish town with her brother, Janek, and her mother and father. Soon, everything was about to change. Nelly was about to be part of the world¿s most tragic event: the Holocaust. This story is most effective because this story is entirely true; Nelly S. Toll really did survive the Holocaust and every word is a memoir of her experiences and losses. The Germans were first thought of as heroes, defeating the Russian army who for so long had persecuted the Jews of Poland. Soon Poland realized that the Germans were not their friends, but rather a force that they couldn¿t stop. It begins with a few restrictions for Jews, and then it takes a physical turn when Jews are beaten. Of course, this is only the beginning of the four years of death, hiding, torture, and the pure, unexplainable fear of not being alive the next morning. When I read this story, I related a lot to Nelly. She seems a lot like me, and she shares a love for art, which was her only comfort in hiding. Whenever I¿m anxious, worried, or hurting, art is definitely a way to cool down and is my way to express myself. So I could really relate with Nelly, and I think her artwork is great! For this book, you have to really picture exactly what the author is describing to get the full affect of the book. It¿s easy to read something, but when you start to picture the text, you realize what a scary, nerve-wracking, sad and disturbing time the Holocaust really was, and the fact that Nelly survived makes the book even more extraordinary. Sometimes the text can get a little boring ¿ it¿s very historical and full of facts. When I came to a boring part, I imagined myself in the role and what was running through my head during an event or dialogue, and it became really exciting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hidden with her mother during World War II, Nelly S. Toll reveals her childhood story in her book, Behind the Secret Window. Toll's family is Polish Jew who lived in Lwów. The Tolls have been very successful in Lwów and were better known by their business. The story begins as the Russians are leaving the country and the Germans march in. Everyone is worried about Germans, but they comfort themselves that since the Germans are educated people, peach will become back to Polish lives as it had been before the Russians came. Toll recalls how her life had been affected by living with Russian soldiers and how her father vanished into the darkness. When the Germans came, the Tolls had to move to a ghetto, a little house on Kleparowska Street. The Tolls were trying to make a secret hiding place, like other Jews did, hiding children from the German and Ukrainian police. Toll recalls that every time the police would come, the streets were quiet, as if they were empty. The town was like a ghost town. The author was sent away to a Christian family where she will be safe from the Germans for a while. Later, she learns that her cousins were taken away and have not been heard from since. After that, the Tolls attempt to keep the author away from the ghetto as much as possible. They try to escape to other neighboring countries. As all their attempts fail, the author and her mother live with a Polish family who hide them in their bedroom, in a secret place behind where there used to be a window. The author and her mother live in this secret place until the Germans leave Poland and the Russians once again march in. People may think of this book as just another World War II story where Jews were affected greatly by the Holocaust. Most of these stories are recalled through a diary that the authors have written, and this book is no exception. Nelly S. Toll was a young girl when she wrote the diary, which later because her published book. The book also contains her artwork. It is very rare to find children's watercolor paintings during wartime. This book has a happy-ending. Anne Frank's diary ends as soldiers' march in one day to their hiding place and all of the family members, exception of her father, are killed at the concentration camp. In this story, even though most of Nelly S. Toll's family members are killed or dragged to concentration camps, she and her mother survive and come to America. The book, Behind the Secret Window is published by the author herself, rather than published by a member of her family. This book will make the readers think of their surroundings and recognize once again how lucky they are to live